The impact of commercial harvesting on Warburgia salutaris (‘pepper-bark tree’) in Mpumalanga, South Africa
- Cite this article as:
- Botha, J., Witkowski, E. & Shackleton, C. Biodiversity and Conservation (2004) 13: 1675. doi:10.1023/B:BIOC.0000029333.72945.b0
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Commercialisation often increases the difficulty in managing harvested plant populations sustainably. The bark of the popular medicinal species, Warburgia salutaris (Bertol.f.) Chiov. (Canellaceae) (‘pepper-bark tree’), is widely traded throughout southern Africa. The impact of commercial harvesting on this Red Data species was assessed by comparing commercially harvested populations with populations growing on private land or in protected areas (termed ‘protected populations’) in Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province, South Africa. The basal diameters and heights of stems in commercially harvested populations were significantly lower than those of the protected populations. The density of young/small plants was low in all populations. W. salutaris is usually resilient to high levels of bark harvesting. In this study, 75% of heavily harvested stems (>10% of the stem below 2 m) coppiced (resprouted). However, individuals that had been affected by regular fires, or repeatedly harvested, appeared prone to a fungal disease and had high percentage mortality. The populations occurring on private land appeared the most vigorous. Habitat in one protected area had been reduced through the construction of a dam. In another, small W. salutaris populations exhibited a shrubby growth form, probably due to frequent fires. Our current knowledge for this species supports a global IUCN status of EN A4acd. Plant conservation needs to become a higher priority both within and outside protected areas. Commercially harvested populations should be better managed through improved harvesting techniques and monitoring. Cultivation levels urgently need to be increased. Further research should be conducted on factors limiting regeneration, including the most appropriate fire regime.